Phillip Island – Things to Do and See

Some time ago, I wrote about slow living and staying at Cape Cottage Studio at Phillip Island (gem of a find on Air BnB) over my birthday weekend.  This is a quick follow-up post (to be told mostly in pictures), about what we did there!

After checking in and dropping off our bags, it was already 1pm (read: starving!)  On the recommendation of a local, we stopped off at Burnt Toast (known for their coffee, I’m told).

Burnt ToastI had their Calamari salad (yummy but was a long wait) and breathed in the lazy sea air.  Next, we stopped off at Pannys Amazing World of Chocolate, because we like chocolate and refused to believe we are too old for it.

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It was very well curated and would be a particular hit with the kids!  The whole visit took us about an hour and a half.  The displays were highly interactive; you get to learn how chocolate is made, as well as make your own chocolates (hint:  take the time to read their chocolate jokes – very funny).  I would’ve liked to see some information on the chocolate industry and what is being done about fair trade.  To me, it’s a biased presentation of information if we just talk about how chocolate is made, without a consideration of the labourers in cocoa plantations and the conditions which they work under.  Child and slave labour remains a top priority for industry reform and should be talked about and actioned on.

Following our chocolate visit, we took a walk around Nobbies Centre

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The boardwalk is amazing (hint: the outside of the Nobbies Centre had more things to do than inside – unless you’re one who likes to absorb information through reading).  Outside, you can see one of Australia’s largest fur seal colonies.  I put a gold coin into one of the ‘seal spy’ cameras to try and zoom in on the seals, and saw — nothing.  I do have very bad eyesight though and never mind, the gold coin went towards research and conservation.

We then took the short drive to the site for the Penguin Parade (it’s a good idea to arrive plenty early) and waited for the little penguins to return home 🙂

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I visited Phillip Island many years ago in primary school (and loved, loved, loved it!).  I’m very happy to note that the penguin colony has grown considerably since that time (thanks to the fantastic work done by the Penguin Foundation and many others).  (Hint:  It gets very cold there, even in summer – so bring jackets, beanies, gloves etc.  Also, bring something to sit on.  If you get there early enough the best vantage points are at the sides of the viewing decks and not the centre.  We bought our tickets very late and only managed to get the General Viewing tickets.  I’d recommend the Penguins Plus option if you buy your tickets early enough).  

Seeing the Little Penguins waddle across the sand is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life (and I don’t say that lightly).  You’re arching your neck to spot them and there’s a barely audible collective intake of breath from the crowd when the penguins are spotted.  Whilst they’re waddling you’re watching with bated breath hoping that none of the seagulls or foxes gets to them.  Whilst it’s nice seeing them on the viewing platforms because you can take in the whole scene, my advice is to wait until quite a few of them have made their way to the burrows and then hang around the boardwalks.  If you’re patient, you will see them waddling in front of you – literally inches from your face!!!  Before you drive home, be careful to check under your car and behind your wheels to make sure that there are no little penguins hiding there.  The carpark is very close to their burrows!

(The penguin photos above are courtesy of the free penguin parade app because photos are strictly not allowed.  It was sad to see some people pulling out their cameras and taking photos anyway.  Flash or no flash it’s not allowed!!!! Please don’t do it.  Even the click of the shutter can frighten them.  You can get heaps of great photo from the free app and they make it very easy for you to share.  Enjoy the experience peoples, stop taking photos!)

The next day, we woke up bright and early to walk around Cape Woolamai.  We didn’t take one of the official trails, but opted instead for the path recommended by our Air BnB host.  This is some of what we saw:

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Me

I love Australia, I love being outside.  This country is so beautiful.

After a quick shower back at the Studio, we headed out to Cowes for lunch.  I opted for seafood again (this time at Gulliver’s Eatery).

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Was very yummy and fresh.  Next, we headed off to Cowe’s Jetty, ready for our Seal Watching cruise with Wildlife Coast Cruises (I got some red balloon voucher ages ago, and we exchanged it for tickets on the cruise). 

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Me Seals

Before we spotted the seals, we could smell them.  They were super duper smelly!  And we were out in the wide-open air, imagine if it was an enclosed space- eek 😉  Once you get past the smell, it’s fascinating to watch the seals interact with each other and our boat – they’re seriously playful.

seals

Though I made full use of the tea and cookies facilities on board the cruise, I was starving by the time we docked.  Dinner was at Pino’s Trattoria – we highly recommend the prosciutto pizza (although Mister T disagrees with their quote on the quote board)….

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pizza

Take time to pause for the sunset by the pier –

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We also did a late night supermarket run, and found that they had interesting breakfast cereals in Cowes:

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—–

On our final day at Phillip Island, I woke up bitter-sweet.  Sad, because it was our last day here for awhile, but happy because it was my birthday!

I was treated to a very girly morning chai latte (my favourite):

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We then headed to the Cowes market, where there were an assortment of things to buy…….including three-legged bedframes, all sorts of nails and screws and a selection of plant clippings.  Sad to say, I recently found out that the market has since closed and is no longer running.

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After the market, we visited the Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm  because I’ve always wanted to try my hand at fishing.  We started off at the trophy lake outside, where one of the staff members taught us how to cast our line (I much preferred using corn bait rather than worm bait – cause I couldn’t bear to kill a live worm)

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We were there for an hour and a bit — and still couldn’t catch anything.  We googled ‘trout fishing’ on our phones for tips and tried out various suggestions to no avail.  We looked at people around us – one little boy had some luck but everyone else was in the same boat.  Eventually, I got bored and started wandering around the place, including visiting their chickens, which were very cute:

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Finally, we let go of our pride and went instead to the indoor rainforest pool where you’re pretty much guaranteed a catch.  However, walking to the inside pool was a bit like the ‘walk of shame’ and everyone hung their head sheepishly as they did so.  The rainforest pool was filled to the brim with trout (and they were all probably starving); it’d be pretty hard for you not to get a catch.  The staff there can clean your catch for you to take home (complete with insulated cold transport packs) or to cook at the free BBQ facilities, alternatively their chefs can cook your catch (baked with one of three marinades or in batter).  I chose to have mine baked with lemon and pepper, and with the salad:

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All in all it was a great first time fishing experience (even if it was cheating a bit).  The fish was very fresh and yummy.  My only advice would be not to catch too many fish because the whole experience worked out to be quite pricey for us.  You have to pay for the entry fee, the fishing gear, the fish (by weight) and then for the cooking.  But to be fair, the fish was pretty massive and the farm operates on sustainable aquaculture practices which I’m happy to support.  The bush tucker trail is also worth a look – made for a nice walk after our massive lunch (and before the road trip home).

We headed back to Melbourne at around 3pm.  I was very sad to leave Phillip Island, and hope to be back again in the near future.

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Coron Part 2: Accommodation and Food

After a safe landing at Busuanga airport (see previous post Coron Part 1: Flying and the Airport), we were promptly welcomed by a smiling group – drivers waiting to pick up guests heading for various hostels and hotels. Finding our driver was easy enough, they all knew each other and quickly directed us to a smiley chap. The ride to the hotel was pleasant; it was also the first time that I encountered ‘cow crossing signs’ and I quickly discovered why:

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Where We Stayed
On the recommendation of a local resident, we chose to stay at a hotel in Coron town rather than a resort on an island. Whilst there are no beaches in Coron town itself, our hotel (Corto del Mar) was very close to the pier, the launching pad for island hopping. This gave us more flexibility in choosing the islands we wanted to visit, the food we wanted to eat, and also provided more shopping opportunities.

The hotel itself was beautiful (the photos on its website doesn’t do it justice). Most of the decor is made out of wood (love!) and there is a pool right in the middle of everything. We were welcomed on arrival with a juice, complete with a slice of orange perched on the glass (I’m excited by little things like that. It makes everything seem more islandy). The staff are friendly and the restaurant is good. Breakfast is included and it’s a decent fare (you can choose from American, Continental or Filipino breakfast). Most of all, things were clean! The only very slight area for improvement would be their pillows – it gave me a slight crick in the neck (and I’m not usually too fussy with my pillows).

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In terms of food, it’s heavenly for those who like seafood (that’s me).

Santino’s Grill
We ate sisig, stuffed squid, grilled tuna tail, garlic rice and seaweed salad (complimentary). Sisig is a Filipino dish made from part of a pig’s head and liver, and seasoned usually with calamansi and chilli peppers; I know it doesn’t sound very appetising- but if you can get past what it is you’re eating, it is actually very tasty.

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Yep, everything was delicious. However, I’m not a huge fan of cats. And there was a cat in the restaurant which angrily growled at me, seemingly asking for food. I don’t know if the cat was a stray or whether he/she belonged to the restaurant owner….nevertheless, kudos to the staff there, who shooed away the cat once we expressed that I was not particularly fond of it.

Winnie’s Restaurant
We ate steamed lobsters, coconut milk sting-ray, garlic butter prawns x 2, crab fried rice, seaweed salad (complimentary) and leche flan (complimentary).

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Again, mouth-wateringly good. Quick tip: make a reservation. We ate dinner quite early and luckily for us snatched a spot; those who came later than us would not be so lucky!

Corto del Mar
We ate breakfast at the hotel (included with our stay) as well as the occasional snack or light dinner when we were too tired to venture out. The filipino breakfast (particularly the marinated fish “danggit” and the pork tascino) is a must-try. Yummers!

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If you don’t feel like grilled food or seafood, my hubby assures me that their pizza is also quite up to scratch!

Picnic Lunch as Part of our Tour
As part of our island hopping tours (more on this to come), a ‘picnic lunch’ at a beautiful white sand beach was included. When I read picnic lunch on the brochure, I envisaged a sandwich, a couple of cookies and maybe a piece of fruit. Nope, the picnic lunch actually refers to: steamed crab, smoked pork chops, smoked fish, pineapple pieces, cucumber salad, steamed rice, watermelon slices with bottles of softdrinks. Our guides cooked all this on a moving boat, whilst navigating and guiding us around – very skilled. Again, everything was delicious (made even more delicious by the fact that we were eating the meal surrounded by a beautiful vista).

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Bliss. In summary:
1. Hotel was great and we were happy with our choice – staying in Coron town for flexibility turned out to be a great idea.
2. Food was great (if you like seafood); you may have to dine with cats and dogs, and it’s wise to make reservations if you’re really keen on going to a particular place.
3. My personal pick for food includes: Steamed crab and/or lobster and the marinated fish “danggit”.

Stick around for the next post on things to do in Coron!

Coron Part 1: Flying and the Airport

This trip is the fourth time I’ve travelled to the Philippines. Each time we visit I jokingly complain to my hubby that I’m yet to venture outside the ‘mall tour’ and that I’m beginning to think that the promise of beautiful beaches (the ones shown in the ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines!’ ads) are fabled. He good-naturedly embraced my complaining and on this trip, we booked a short get-away to Coron! Coron is a municipality in the province of Palawan in the Philippines; lots of opportunities for beaches and island hopping.

We flew with Philippines Airlines on a propeller plane; it’s the first time I’ve been on a propeller plane. I was slightly anxious (for some reason I felt that a propeller plane was less safe than a jet plane).

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My hubby explained that the runway at Busuanga airport was too short for a jet-plane. This made me even more anxious, but I tried not to let it show. Instead, I crossed my fingers and toes (luckily it was one of the shortest flights I’ve ever been on, so it didn’t get too tiring). I reasoned with myself that some things in life are out of my control and the best way to live is to make the most of every opportunity.

This is a photo from the plane window before we landed. I’m not 100% sure I captured the right island (there are many!) but it looks convincing:

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We landed safely (although my hubby was right, the runway was pretty darn short!) The airport however was charming – in a simplistic, island-style kinda way. The luggage conveyor belt was pretty much a wooden table:

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I snapped this quick photo of the airport before our airport pickup scooted us away to our hotel (airport sign had many missing letters):

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I jumped on google to see if anyone had googled about their experiences with the Busuanga airport (and propellor plane) and was pleasantly tickled to find that Lauren from Never ending Footsteps blogged about something very similar in 2012.

What’s your most amusing airport / flying experience?

The Toilet That Sprays You

*Warning this post talks a lot about toilets and associated matters, so tune out if that’s not your thing.

My hubby and I are both stingy thrifty people, who love experiences. So we welcomed an overnight stopover at Osaka (for a lower plane ticket price). Yes it took more time and more administration – but it also meant more sushi and opportunities for shopping! We stayed at a hotel close to the airport: The Kansai Washington Airport Hotel.

They had a toilet which looked like this in our room:

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See the buttons on the left hand side? Well. You can probably tell which buttons will direct water to spray at you. Both my hubby and I gave it a try (I mean how often do you encounter a toilet which sprays at you?)

The Verdict?
Mr T (my hubby and I’m quoting him precisely here): It’s a warm stream that cleanses your behind so you don’t have to. (5 stars out of 5)
Me: It’s a strange sensation and a gross invasion of my privacy. (3 stars out of 5)

Mr T would like me to add that it was warm water too….

Has anyone else tried the toilet that sprays, and what was your verdict?

A Peony Picnic at Spring Hill

Mister T and I said our vows to each other inside a beautiful little white church at Spring Hill.  The little church sits within a peony farm and today we visited their open paddock picnic.  It was a real treat!

Being out in nature really makes a Saturday feel like a Saturday.  I’ve always loved the drive up to Kyneton along the Calder Freeway.  I love space.  And I love trees.  And the drive gives you both in abundance.

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Here are the nuts and bolts if you decide to visit next year! (Whilst there’s also open days scheduled for the 26th and 29th of November of this year – unfortunately, the turn out was so great today that the peony paddock has been fully picked.  You can however, still buy bunches of flowers on the open days and walk up to the paddock to take a look)

  • Entry is via the Little Church (1385 Kyneton Springhill Road, Spring Hill)
  • Entry fee is AUD$25  (inclusive of 20 stems which you can pick yourself from the paddock).  If you want to visit the paddock (without picking stems) the entry fee is AUD$5.
  • There’s live music, and food and drinks for purchase (including wine and champagne).
  • Wear  – clothes that you wouldn’t mind getting dirty in and gumboots are a good idea; it’s a working farm, not an open garden.
  • Bring – your own secateurs (otherwise there’s some you can lend for AUD$5 deposit), and maybe a plastic bag so you can keep your flowers in water while you take them home (they help you wrap up your flowers in newspaper).
  • Be aware that the walk from the Church to the paddock is quite lengthy.  It’s a very pleasant walk (with horses to the side, which you can say hi to)  But kids and the elderly may struggle a bit, so be mentally prepared (or perhaps ask in advance for permission to drive the car up).

Check out the Little Church’s facebook page and website for more details.  The owners Nicky and Mac are both lovely!

I had a beautiful Saturday, soaking up my surrounds and reliving memories of a very special day when I married my best friend in the presence of those dearest and closest to us. IMG_5911

Slow Living: Cape Cottage Studio

Imagine  a little studio, set high amongst the trees, with massive floor to ceiling windows.  You can hear the birds chirping away, breathe in the crisp sea air and watch the sunset with an uninterrupted view of the horizon.  

That was our experience at the Cape Cottage Studio in Phillip Island.  I’m not quite sure why but I’ve always had an obsession with intentionally, small spaces.  It forces you to think about what you have, what you want and what you need.  The space gave us exactly what we needed to live comfortably (including a hairdryer and a good selection of books!), but nothing in the space was excessive.  Everything that was chosen to occupy the space had a purpose, a use and/or was beautiful to look at.  What the space did provide in over-abundance were many opportunities to appreciate nature: streaming morning sunlight, paths to a nearby beach, meals al fresco style on the balcony amongst trees and birds.  It was exactly what I needed to practice slow living.  By slow living, I mean taking in all my experiences and appreciate it moment by moment.  I’m in love.  And toying with the idea of living somewhere quieter, slower, with more access to nature.

The trick is to somehow incorporate slow living into my everyday life (even, and especially, when I’m not away on some beautiful, coastal town, with no work looming over my head and all the time in the world!!!!)  Tips, anyone?

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My First Summit Experience: Mount Feathertop via Razortop

I lifted my eyes towards the summit, shifted the weight of my pack and forced a smile.  My two hiking buddies were bounding with energy; it was as if they were taking a leisurely morning stroll.  I, on the other hand, was struggling.  We had barely begun the hike and Diamantina Hut, where we had started our journey, was still in sight.  I knew we had at least 4 hours of trekking (11km) to go and I was already spent.  The Aussie sun was unrelenting, my dark hair was burning under the heat and I felt suffocated under my layers of clothing.  I was by no means a seasoned marathon runner or a triathlete, but I had considered myself to be moderately fit.  Despite having lived in Melbourne for most of my life, I still struggle to cope with the dry, scorching sun that seems to be uniquely Australian.  My tummy started feeling funny, like it always did when I was scared or nervous.  Over the years, rock climbing has taught me to listen to my body.

‘Hey guys, do you mind if we stop for a bit while I change out of my trackies?’ I called to the others.

‘Sure,’ they replied unfazed and started munching on Haribo goldbears while they waited.

I changed out of my tracksuit pants and into my shorts, having been unprepared for the extent of the hot weather which was atypical for November.  The change of clothes helped to lift my mood and after another half an hour of walking, my body gradually climatised and I fell into a rhythm.  Relief washed over me.

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Mount Feathertop is the second highest mountain in Victoria, Australia rising to 1,922 meters.  It’s a great mountain for those who want to experience their first ‘summit’ because in Summer, it is generally achievable for those who are moderately fit.  In Winter however, it should only be attempted by very experienced skiers and climbers.  Some sections of the route are very exposed and can be dangerous, so it is wise to do your research and conduct your own assessments prior to attempting a ‘climb’.  Much of the hike is above tree-lines providing a 360 degrees view of the mountains on a clear day; this was a great motivator for me.  Relishing in the beauty of my surrounds takes my mind off the pain and the tiredness.

We did the hike on a public holiday, hence it was more crowded than usual.  I didn’t mind though as it was nice sharing the journey with fellow nature-lovers.  We pitched our tent at Federation Hut amongst other hikers; it felt like a massive school camp!  Before we went to bed, we dragged our sleeping bags outside the tent and laid beneath the stars – it was heaven.  Free from the light pollution of the city, the night sky was filled to the brim with stars.  After each blink, even more stars appeared.  The moment was spiritual.  I laid in silence, breathing in the crisp, cold air, soaking in the moment and committing it to memory, best that I could.

The next day, we woke at 4am as we wanted to reach the Summit before sunrise.  We were told that the final ascent was very steep and strenuous; wisely, we left our heavy packs back at camp.  It was a mad dash to the top to beat the Sun, but we made it.

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We saw a little red spot in the horizon which gradually spread into a line.  The changing palette of the sky was gradual and yet it ended all too soon.  It was the first time in my twenty-seven years of living that I had waited for the start of a new day.  The person who came up with the saying, ‘tomorrow is a new day’, must have experienced something akin to this.  This particular sunrise brought with it the realisation that yesterday with all its mistakes and regrets are gone.  Today is for me to fill and create.  It was a really free-ing experience.

I love that nature teaches me through realisations, not words.  When I contemplate that which is beyond the horizon and appreciate the vastness of the universe, my petty problems fade and I am renewed with the desire to make each day count.  During these moments, it is as though a veil has been lifted and I am gifted with a glimpse of what really matters.  It is these moments which keeps me hiking.

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Travel is an excuse to observe people (in a non creepy kind of away!)

I’m typing out this blog entry in the middle of Starbucks. Everything feels just like home, except that the air is that bit more humid, the accents around me somewhat foreign and I don’t feel rushed (a rarity). I landed in Singapore late last night and today is the first full day of exploration. Whilst sitting in the middle of Starbucks is perhaps not considered to be the best way to ‘explore’ a city, I always find the unplanned days the most illuminating. As Daisann McLane noted in her nat geo article:

One of the great things about travel is that it gives us an excuse to declare time-out from our daily business and watch others going about theirs.

I love seeing people going about their daily lives, with me as an observer: the fly on the wall.  I find this the best way to soak in the city. A trip to the Art Science museum is on the agenda, but for now, I’m happy being one of those people who people may walk by and think, ‘why doesn’t she have to work or study?!?!’